Step 2 is the hard part.

Matt Ginzton writes here.

Travel Photo Processing Workflow

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Vanessa and I just got back from a long trip during which we took and posted a lot of pictures, mostly posting from the road, and I thought I’d write up a description of the gear we used and how we used it.

I was using both a Nikon DSLR, and a Canon pocket camera for times when I don’t want to carry the big DSLR. We also had a netbook running Windows 7 and Adobe Lightroom to offload and process the photos, and an external hard drive for backup.

Every day or 3 when we had some free time, we’d offload the cameras — with twin goals of taking a look at the photos on a larger screen, and backing stuff up in case a camera is broken/stolen. I’d use Lightroom’s import function to bring all the photos into an “incoming” folder, subdivided by date, for both cameras. After I had all the photos from both cameras sitting in the “incoming” folder, I’d back up the entire “incoming” folder to the external hard drive, and only then, use Lightroom to reorganize the photos by destination, theme or group. (Importing first into this temporary “incoming” folder as a staging area has two purposes: it’s easy to do backups as above this way, and I never need to change Lightroom’s import settings; once the defaults are set correctly, I just have to hit Import and then OK.)

Once, and only once, all the photos are copied off of the memory cards and onto both the netbook’s hard drive and the external hard drive, I’d format the memory cards in each camera.

Meanwhile, back on the netbook, I’d be accumulating more and more photos that eventually need to be sorted into good and bad, the bad ones deleted, mediocre ones ignored for now, and the good ones cleaned up, annotated with metadata, and uploaded to my favorite sharing site (currently Flickr).

To do this, I’d:

  1. Make a quick pass through each group of pictures, using Lightroom’s flag feature to group them into 3 bins — reject for immediate deletion, unflagged to ignore for now, and pick for the good ones. Redundant/duplicate good ones are mostly allowed for now, and all picked.
  2. Create a new collection, and add all the picked photos from step 1.
  3. Use Lightroom’s develop module to make them look better — recrop, correct exposure, correct lens distortion, reduce noise, whatever’s necessary.
  4. Go back through this collection carefully to pick only the photos that I like best or that best represent the story, eliminating redundant photos (picking just the best of any groups of similar photos).
  5. Add location, title and caption metadata to the surviving photos.
  6. Export these photos to Flickr.

(Several of these steps can be done in different orders, but the more photos you’re working with at a given step, the more work it is… if you eliminate duplicates in step 1, you spend less time developing them; if you add captions or other metadata before step 4, you’ve got more to do, though location metadata can often be applied in bulk.)

All of this is a lot of work, but it goes more quickly with practice and I don’t know an easier way to get equal results. Also, running Lightroom on a netbook with only 2GB of memory is an exercise in patience, but it still paid off compared to waiting till we got home to process thousands of photos, since our friends could follow what we were up to in closer to real time, and we didn’t have weeks of photo tweaking to do once we got home.